The Offense of the Cross



J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937), a Presbyterian theologian who started Westminster Theological Seminary (after a conservative revolt against modernist theology that was being pushed at Princeton Theological Seminary) observed about those who embraced modernist theology:

“this curious fact – when men talk thus about propagating Christianity without defending it, the thing that we are propagating is pretty sure not to be Christianity at all.  They are propagating an anti-intellectualistic, nondoctrinal Modernism; and the reason why it requires no defense is simply that it is so completely in accord with the current of the age.”

Though Machen was speaking of modernist liberals, I think that what he says here applies to postmodern liberals as well.  The emergent church is taking a page from the playbook of religious liberals at the turn of the 20th century.  You don’t have to defend a creed-less Christianity, most emergents disdain creeds, statements of faith, hard-line doctrinal stands, and the like.  It seems so “modern” – I find that somewhat amusing since one could say the same about their approach to doctrine.

The gospel offends.  It has hard truth.  Paul said that if he preached another message (circumcision) he wouldn’t undergo persecution, the offense of the Cross would be removed, (Galatians 5:11).  Why?  To use Machen’s words, Paul’s message would have been “completely in accord with the current of the age.”  Which would have been going along with the Judiaizers who proclaimed that believers needed to be circumcised.

If what you are teaching and preaching is the true Gospel, it will offend some.  That doesn’t mean we are offensive, but the message is abrasive to those who don’t want to hear it.  Remember what Paul said to the Corinthian Church.

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?  For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.  For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,  but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,  but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men, (1 Corinthians 1:18-25, ESV).

The Cross offends.  It is seen as foolishness.  People who want to live for themselves do not embrace the implications of the Gospel message and that is why often times a defense is needed.

Otherwise, we may just be tickling ears, (2 Timothy 4:3).

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  • Iowaguy

    So, if you don’t mind, what’s your definition of “modernist” theology?

  • Iowaguy

    So, if you don’t mind, what’s your definition of “modernist” theology?

  • http://caffeinatedthoughts.com Shane Vander Hart

    Don’t mind at all, modernism is rooted in the Enlightenment – an elevation of human ability and thought. Mankind, with access to rationalism and science is able to unlimited progress to bettering itself.

    That high elevation of mankind sort of runs roughshod over what the Bible teaches regarding the depravity of man – http://caffeinatedthoughts.com/?p=1203.

    So this lead to humanistic secularism, as well as, within Christian circles – modernist/liberal theology which place more emphasis on man’s knowledge, biblical criticism, and less on biblical authority.

  • http://www.caffeinatedthoughts.com Shane Vander Hart

    Don’t mind at all, modernism is rooted in the Enlightenment – an elevation of human ability and thought. Mankind, with access to rationalism and science is able to unlimited progress to bettering itself.

    That high elevation of mankind sort of runs roughshod over what the Bible teaches regarding the depravity of man – http://caffeinatedthoughts.com/?p=1203.

    So this lead to humanistic secularism, as well as, within Christian circles – modernist/liberal theology which place more emphasis on man’s knowledge, biblical criticism, and less on biblical authority.

  • http://thenarrowroad-andyc.blogspot.com AndyC

    The gospel, the cross offend. But God does not. it is human pride and folly that finds the truth offensive.

    AndyCs last blog post..A Circle Does The Trick

  • http://thenarrowroad-andyc.blogspot.com AndyC

    The gospel, the cross offend. But God does not. it is human pride and folly that finds the truth offensive.

    AndyCs last blog post..A Circle Does The Trick

  • http://thenarrowroad-andyc.blogspot.com AndyC

    The gospel, the cross offend. But God does not. it is human pride and folly that finds the truth offensive.

    AndyCs last blog post..A Circle Does The Trick

  • http://www.revolutioninthespirit.blogspot.com Steve

    Refreshing, Shane. Thanks.

    Steves last blog post..Santa Claus: An Engineer’s Perspective

  • http://www.revolutioninthespirit.blogspot.com Steve

    Refreshing, Shane. Thanks.

    Steves last blog post..Santa Claus: An Engineer’s Perspective

  • http://www.revolutioninthespirit.blogspot.com Steve

    Refreshing, Shane. Thanks.

    Steves last blog post..Santa Claus: An Engineer’s Perspective

  • http://www.quietedwaters.com Joshua Lake

    I was recently reminded, and challenged, that our teaching and preaching will be offensive to those of other faiths. If we preach the Gospel and find that Jews, or Muslims, or those of most other faiths, agree with our message, then we have been unfaithful to the truth. Jesus is the heart of the Gospel, and His Cross is a stumbling block to those who do not believe. If we are preaching faithfully, the message will certainly offend.

    Joshua Lakes last blog post..Spiritual Pride

  • http://www.quietedwaters.com Joshua Lake

    I was recently reminded, and challenged, that our teaching and preaching will be offensive to those of other faiths. If we preach the Gospel and find that Jews, or Muslims, or those of most other faiths, agree with our message, then we have been unfaithful to the truth. Jesus is the heart of the Gospel, and His Cross is a stumbling block to those who do not believe. If we are preaching faithfully, the message will certainly offend.

    Joshua Lakes last blog post..Spiritual Pride

  • http://www.quietedwaters.com Joshua Lake

    I was recently reminded, and challenged, that our teaching and preaching will be offensive to those of other faiths. If we preach the Gospel and find that Jews, or Muslims, or those of most other faiths, agree with our message, then we have been unfaithful to the truth. Jesus is the heart of the Gospel, and His Cross is a stumbling block to those who do not believe. If we are preaching faithfully, the message will certainly offend.

    Joshua Lakes last blog post..Spiritual Pride

  • http://www.xanga.com/A_Sweet_Fragrance Vanessa

    Interesting that you mentioned Machen, I’m reading one of his books right now. Very solid stuff. You are right that without the message of the cross, we are just tickling ears. There is no Gospel, no true Christianity without the cross. The cross is offensive and a stumbling block to those who do not want to acknowledge their sin, but on a positive note it is the hope of salvation to those who believe.

    Vanessas last blog post..Daughters of Sarah ~ Book Review of Set-Apart Femininity by Leslie Ludy

  • http://www.xanga.com/A_Sweet_Fragrance Vanessa

    Interesting that you mentioned Machen, I’m reading one of his books right now. Very solid stuff. You are right that without the message of the cross, we are just tickling ears. There is no Gospel, no true Christianity without the cross. The cross is offensive and a stumbling block to those who do not want to acknowledge their sin, but on a positive note it is the hope of salvation to those who believe.

    Vanessas last blog post..Daughters of Sarah ~ Book Review of Set-Apart Femininity by Leslie Ludy

  • http://www.xanga.com/A_Sweet_Fragrance Vanessa

    Interesting that you mentioned Machen, I’m reading one of his books right now. Very solid stuff. You are right that without the message of the cross, we are just tickling ears. There is no Gospel, no true Christianity without the cross. The cross is offensive and a stumbling block to those who do not want to acknowledge their sin, but on a positive note it is the hope of salvation to those who believe.

    Vanessas last blog post..Daughters of Sarah ~ Book Review of Set-Apart Femininity by Leslie Ludy

  • http://neverbeenherebefore.blogspot.com stephanie

    I like Augustine’s and Newbigin’s take on modernism and the Enlightenment: reason does not come before belief, or cause belief. We must believe first in order to reason.

    This places it all back in God’s hands, where it should be.

    stephanies last blog post..A Fragrance

  • http://neverbeenherebefore.blogspot.com stephanie

    I like Augustine’s and Newbigin’s take on modernism and the Enlightenment: reason does not come before belief, or cause belief. We must believe first in order to reason.

    This places it all back in God’s hands, where it should be.

    stephanies last blog post..A Fragrance